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Five types of stories that drive Facebook engagement

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What do stories about the latest cat video, a construction project and a marriage proposal have in common?

If they happened near you--and if they bring out strong feelings about the place you live--you are more likely to share them using social media.

People were six times more likely to share, like or comment on Facebook posts when they were tailored to a regional audience rather than to a global following, the digital arm of National Public Radio in the U.S. discovered in a recent experiment.

The experiment looked at what kinds of local stories drive community engagement. NPR Digital Services geotargeted its Facebook posts to specific regions, using content from five member stations in the U.S. So, for example, a post about a construction project in San Francisco would only be seen by NPR Facebook subscribers who live in that city.

NPR wanted to know what kinds of stories were shared most often and why. Here are a few story types that proved most popular:

Explainers

People share stories explaining the "traits, quirks and habits" in their community. There are more dogs than children in Seattle, but why? NPR Seattle affiliate KPLU's segment "I Wonder Why...?" engaged readers with an explanation, and many readers shared it. People who discover an unknown fact are "compelled to share it because they get the sensation of stumbling upon a local gem," Digital News Specialists Eric Athas and Teresa Gorman wrote in their report.

They also share stories about complex issues, such as a new law or unusual happening in their city. KPLU explained what's next for Washington residents now that marijuana has been legalized. KQED explained why it's been colder than usual in San Francisco.

Stories that make you smile

Imagine finding out that the latest funny cat video was filmed at your next-door neighbor's house. Many of us would share that in an instant. Posts about Seattle's Colonel Meow, Austin's marriage proposal from KUT News and Boston's late-night cookie delivery service from 90.0 WUBR were a hit for these member stations.

"Hey, I've been there before!"

Eye-catching videos and photos are universally popular, but there's something about watching a video and being able to name familiar landmarks that's especially compelling. Seattlites bonded on Facebook over a time-lapse video of what their city would look like deserted.

Current happenings

No one wants to be out of the loop with local current events. If local news outlets can deliver these stories quickly, they're sure to be shared, but there is a time limit. Gorman and Athas said the critical element to engaging a community with this story type is "knowing when something is beginning to buzz." So when Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell served coffee at a local coffee shop in Seattle, KPLU shared on-the-scene photos and videos, which drove engagement.

Pride and shame

Whether stories make readers cringe at the latest city council fumble or crow about local parks, content that elicits strong feelings about a town or city drive sharing and commenting. More than 300 Austinites liked KUT's post about Bloomberg Businessweek naming Austin one of the top 50 American cities.

Shame motivates people to share stories as well. When Washington state residents learned about officials killing a pack of wolves, they expressed their outrage with nearly 100 comments.

Which of your news organization's stories are shared the most on Facebook?

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via ausnahmezustand.

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